By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Their unbeaten run may have survived the trip to Florence on Tuesday night, but Juventus had to overcome the toughest test yet during their 16-month streak of Serie A invincibility. And Fiorentina’s gameplan has set a blueprint for the rest of the league to follow as the Bianconeri’s rivals are given fresh hope of getting something from their forthcoming clashes with Antonio Conte’s side.
After overcoming a rocky first hour against Genoa nine days earlier, when they struggled to contain the threat of Ciro Immobile and Marco Borriello from direct balls in behind, the Italian champions were given another scare by Vincenzo Montella’s men, but this time there was no second-half rally and no warm feeling inside come full-time. Yes, Juve remain unbeaten, and will very likely remain top of the league after the remainder of the matchday five fixtures. But after a four-game spell of convincing victories, the Bianconeri looked fallible.
And it was not in defence where they were second best, not even in attack, where their profligate strikers has often left them with one point when it should have been three. Instead, it was – for once – in midfield that they fell short. Alongside Emanuele Giaccherini – playing in the central three in place of the rested Claudio Marchisio – Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal had nowhere near the success to which they have become so accustomed to in recent times, in turn giving Fabio Quagliarella and Sebastian Giovinco nothing but scraps to feed off up top.
|MATCH FACTS | Fiorentina 0-0 Juve
For the Viola, Romulo, David Pizarro and Borja Valero provided the right mix of breathless pressing off the ball and composure on it to ask the kind of questions Juve have hardly had to answer of late. Between the three of them, they gave the Scudetto holders a proper run for their money, and would perhaps have seen their efforts turn into a victory had Fiorentina had a true marksman to call upon.
Juventus’ own Achilles heel under Antonio Conte has been their lack of a true No.9, so it was perhaps ironic that they were let off the hook by a team bearing the same flaw. While Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic both showed great ability, neither is a poacher, and the Serbian even missed his side’s best chance when running free in the right channel, pulling his shot wide of the far post.
But while Conte will be relieved to have left the Artemio Franchi with a point, it will have been of serious concern to him that his midfield, the bedrock on which they have built some success, was outplayed in what was probably Juve’s worst game under the former Siena boss’ guidance.
The subdued performance of Pirlo resulted in the regista being hooked for the final quarter, with Paul Pogba replacing him, but even Vidal was below par for long spells, despite one incredible challenge in the penalty area.
The Chilean has been carrying an ankle injury since the first half of the Champions League fixture against Chelsea last week, playing over 200 minutes of football in the six days following the twist which would have seen most people replaced at Stamford Bridge. But if subdued performances are to become the norm from Pirlo in particular during the busy calendar to come, then it will need a quick transition from back-up to true first-teamer from Pogba to fill the gap.
On the left of the three, Marchisio should return against Roma on Saturday, but will doubtless need time off again soon, and Juve can ill-afford another midfield display like Tuesday’s. Kwadwo Asamoah may have been a better option in the centre than Giaccherini once it became obvious that Fiorentina would be such a danger on the ball, with the Ghanaian’s better defensive make-up being more equipped for the task, but bench coach Massimo Carrera decided to stick with the former Udinese man on the left.
Before the game, Carrera claimed there was a telepathy between he and Conte which was helping the Old Lady to sail smoothly through the period of the coach’s matchday suspension, but between them they seemed to have got their gameplan wrong on this occasion.
Montella, meanwhile, will have had mixed feelings at full-time. The memories of last season’s 5-0 mauling at the hands of the Turin side have been buried, but he will surely feel that his outfit should have taken the full three points. Their solid start to the season continues though, and they have already demonstrated in their opening five games that they will have a say in the shake-up come May.
They have proven that Juventus can be bettered, now it is up to somebody else to apply the same commitment in midfield as Fiorentina while offering a similar threat to Genoa in attack in order to bring them down before they get any nearer to Milan’s 58-game unbeaten record.